I was recently invited to speak at a UNISON conference and here’s what I said:
It is often said that young people are the future. While obviously true, what is missing from the debate is that young people are also the present. They have so much to add to the here and now.
In his Hugo Young lecture, Ed Miliband said:
The time demands a new culture in our public services. Not old-style, top-down central control, with users as passive recipients of services.
This is never truer for our young people who have been at the harsh end of the government’s cuts and seen a decimation of the services on which they reply.
The first step of Ed Miliband’s people-powered politics has to be votes at 16. Giving young people the tools to fight back against this coalition could transform our politics. Stephen Twigg has been a huge asset in this fight. It should be front and centre of our election campaign with a bill ready for the first 100 days of government.
Jon Cruddas’ follow-up speech to the NLGN argued for radical reform centred around the five key organising principles of the Labour policy review: transformation, devolution, prevention, collaboration and citizenship and contribution.
Young people cannot have any more ‘services as usual’. Putting them at the heart of services like many Labour councils are doing will be transformational. In Lambeth, where I live, local young people are the members of a cooperative that oversees the new youth service. No longer services done to our young people but done by them and for them. And this is just one of many Labour councils leading the way.
Ed Miliband went on to say:
Instead, we need a new culture of people-powered public services. We should always be seeking to put more power in the hands of patients, parents and all the users of services.
Ed is obviously right, but there is one small admission: the pupils. Schools where students co-commission new buildings have seen reductions in bullying and improved performance. Schools where students help recruit the teachers transform learning and see a step-change away from bad behaviour. School councils allowed to do more than consult on uniform policy have been involved in radically changing school culture, ethos and attainment.
Parents can be a huge asset to local education authorities – as agents and allies of school improvement. But alone their contribution leaves the delivery of education out-of-touch and ill-informed.
The problem with parents being seen as the users is seen in higher education; universities are building halls of residence suitable for parents’ peace of minds when they leave their children on campus, not for a vibrant student community that facilitates learning and opportunity. The same situation in secondary education would lead to poor uses of scarce public money.
Young people have been fantastic agents of change in public health: important to smoking cessation and obesity reduction. Budgets have rightly been given to local government.
But the more ‘taboo’ parts of public health often go without sufficient advocates. Young people and students’ unions have been long been champions of better mental and sexual health services. Youth mayors and students’ unions should have a voice at the table on local governments’ public health bodies. It gives greater meaning to their elections and gives their electors a real say on important public policy issues.
Finally, in creating Ed Miliband’s vision of ‘an economy that works for working people’, young people should be central to any change. The forgotten 50 per cent are not just shut out of the transformational opportunity and high-earning potential of higher education but too often shut in to low-paid jobs and sectors. Individual learning accounts should be created for all young people undergoing more than 20 hours’ work or in-work training a week. Those earning wages between the minimum wage and the living wage should be given extra credits to help them upskill quicker and move beyond low-paid employment. We should give them the skills and training to progress and develop. If successful, these young people will no longer be condemned to a lifetime of low pay but will also vacate access jobs in the labour market to allow other young people to come through and also get the access to training they so rightly deserve.
Together, this agenda of putting young people at the heart of political, public service and economic change will be radical and high-impact. Cruddas’ transformation, devolution, prevention, collaboration and citizenship and contribution principles will not just be boxes to be ticked, but real change to real people. Nothing less will secure a future for our young people.